Charting the decay of male beauty? Bring it on.

Male beauty

A typical man yesterday. Photo included for illustrative purposes and not in any way to drive up  blog traffic. Oh no. MARIUSZ026 (4400670850) by Arno roca’ s eyes –  via Wikimedia Commons.

Does anyone remember the male midlife crisis?

There was a period of time which I think probably began in the 1970s and lasted about 20 years, in which a staple trope of sitcoms, soap operas, drama and even highbrow literature was the man aged around 40 to 50 with a couple of decades of marriage behind him, whose kids were growing or grown, and would suddenly become disillusioned with his life achievements and consumed with his lost youth. He would overcompensate by buying a leather jacket and an electric guitar, a motorcycle or a Porsche. He would typically have an affair with his secretary or leave his wife for a woman twenty years younger.

As a man who is now that exact age, I almost feel cheated. I was quite looking forward to a new guitar, at the very least. But the golden age of the male midlife crisis is long past. I’ve been struggling to recall the last textbook example from popular culture, and I think it was probably Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, released in the dying weeks of the 20th Century. Compare Walter White in Breaking Bad. Had this series been made in the 1980s, this would, I think, have been written as a midlife crisis story. In this century it was written instead as an endlife crisis. Tellingly, when Walter was attempting to disguise his new secret life, everyone assumed he was following the old script and was having affairs, just about the one moral transgression he wasn’t pursuing. [Read more…]

Slap-happy columnists and the dangers of generalisation

I hate to say I told you so, but when I wrote last week that our culture has a problem conceptualising female violence, one or two of those commenting below seemed less than convinced. Perhaps I didn’t explain myself clearly, but with impeccable timing, up popped the Observer columnist Barbara Ellen to provide the perfect illustration.

In discussing the Jay-Z / Solange incident, she made several bizarre and troubling claims. It began with a now-familiar slice of victim-blaming,  pondering what Jay-Z must have done to ‘provoke’ Solange. It got worse when she elided group generalisations with the specifics of an individual incident: “The differences in physical size and/or strength between the sexes mean that most men are simply not physically scared of most women.” 

This is probably true, but has no bearing on whether any one man is physically scared (never mind physically hurt) by any one woman. Ellen’s entire column showed zero understanding of the real dynamics of interpersonal violence, and particularly the complexities of how men react to violence, and female violence in particular.  The real stunner, however, came in a paragraph that was so wrong as to verge on the downright wicked. I am utterly stunned that the editors allowed it through:

What’s more, women tend to be aware of this, if only subliminally. Some females might have periods in their life when they get “slap-happy”, primarily when socialising, maybe when attention seeking, usually when drunk (guilty!). When they stop this behaviour, it’s usually because they’re ashamed, embarrassed or have belatedly realised they’re disgusting dogs who can’t hold their drink. Whatever the reason, it’s unlikely to have anything to do with men being frightened of them. On the contrary, it’s wired into the female DNA that in the main they’re under threat rather than the threat. 

When I wrote about our difficulties in conceptualising female violence, this is precisely what I was talking about. Ellen cannot conceive of female on male assaults as violent crime, just as embarrassing drunkenness. What do these women do when they are going through their “slap-happy” phase?

Consider Coral Millerchip, perhaps, who last summer attacked Jovinder Singh, a frail, 80-year-old man, dying with Alzheimers, knocking him to the ground and then spitting on him. He was so traumatised that he lived out his remaining few months of life in fear, unable to venture outside alone.

Or maybe she is imagining the high-jinks of the Hackney woman who last week greeted the gardener on her housing block by pouring sulphuric acid drain cleaner over his head. Or the Devon nightclubber who assaulted two men, one of whom she leaned in to whisper in his ear then sank her teeth into his cheek. Apparently she is ashamed and embarrassed now, which sounds familiar. Another woman who is ashamed, embarrassed and forgetful this week is the Ipswich woman who removed her shoe and used it to beat three men around the head.

These are just a few snapshots of the 75,000 women arrested for violent crimes in this country each year, picked out from the first few pages of Google News.  Their crimes are not a joke, a rarity or an irrelevance.

Notwithstanding the usual debates about rates of intimate partner violence, It is certainly true that for every woman committing a violent act, there will be several men. Male violence, in both prevalence and severity, remains the most pressing criminological trend in our society. To acknowledge that does not require us to simply ignore or dismiss female violence, whether targeted at men, women or children.

In one respect Barbara Ellen is correct. Context does matter to this debate. It is not necessarily ‘the same’ when a man hits a woman as when a woman hits a man. It is not the same when a large, physically fit music superstar is being attacked with a burly bodyguard to protect him as when a frail, disabled man like Eddie Kidd is being battered behind closed doors by the woman he loves.  It is not the same when Charles Saatchi grabs Nigella Lawson around the throat in a public restaurant as when a couple of destitute street-drinkers brawl over their last swigs of lager. The truth is that no two violent relationships are the same, no two violent incidents are the same, no two victims are the same, no two  perpetrators are the same. It is impossible to say sure how dangerous a person is based on their identity or gender, how scary, or indeed how scared such a person might be when placed in a violent situation.

Generalising about how someone might react to being violently attacked, generalising about someone else’s capacity for violence is a fool’s errand. If we are serious about reducing violence in society, we will not get there by starting with a position that some types of violence are somehow more acceptable than others.

 

O HAI! Remember me?

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you and ignoring you and have done a reasonably impressive vanishing trick for the last month or so.

Just so you know, I’m fine, not ill, haven’t been arrested as a perennial suspicious character, haven’t been killed in a bizarre gardening accident or anything like that.

If you’re really interested, I have been performing a really boring balancing act of assorted work/life issues and this blog has kind of tumbled down through the gaps. Probably also felt a need for a bit of battery-charging time, if I’m honest.

But I’m happy to report I have now reverted to something approaching my usual routine and will hopefully be furnishing you with some topics of intrigue and scandal to get your teeth into very soon.

 

A

x

 

Censoring atheists at LSE is a victory for oppression

Note: Don’t usually cross-post my Guardian Comment is Free pieces, but since I am occasionally reminded that this is a freethought / atheist / secularist blog site, I thought I might as well paste  my latest here too, since it is rather in keeping with the philosophy. More on this story on Alex and Ophelia‘s blogs

 

In Tariq Ali’s autobiography, Street Fighting Years, the veteran radical recalls his culture shock at arriving as a student at Oxford in 1963. His prior education had been under the military dictatorship of Pakistan, where he would not dare to share atheistic thoughts, even in whispers to his closest friends.

 

“When I first saw a pimpled youth, wearing a tattered crimson corduroy jacket standing on a chair in front of a stand at the freshers’ fair and shouting at the top of his voice, ‘Down With God,’ I was both excited and moved. In fact I was a trifle incredulous, which must have explained the fact that I just stood there and stared. Finally, a bit embarrassed, the man in the corduroy jacket stepped down and recruited me to the Oxford University humanist group. I was to discover, much to my surprise, that debates here were much more stimulating than those conducted within the careerist confines of the Labour club.”

 

Fifty years later, almost to the day, student atheist groups have been recruiting once again. At the LSE – an institution that in Ali’s day was notorious for anti-establishment, free-thinking radicalism – Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos from the atheist society were summarily ejectedfrom their own freshers’ fair by student union staff and security. Their offence was wearing T-shirts featuring cartoons from the hugely popular online comic series Jesus and Mo. They were told that wearing the shirts was creating an “offensive environment”. The students then received a hand-delivered letter from the LSE secretary, asking them to refrain from wearing the T-shirts and warning that the school “reserves the right to consider taking further action if warranted”.

Meanwhile in Reading, this year the atheist, humanist and secularist society has been expelled from the student union altogether. The decision follows a similar row at the 2012 freshers’ fair, when the society decorated their stall with a pineapple, to which they had attached a post-it note bearing the name Mohammed. As the group explained at the time, in services to both historical accuracy and comedy: “After a few minutes, we were told by another member of RUSU staff that ‘either the pineapple goes, or you do’, whereupon they seized the pineapple and tried to leave. However, the pineapple was swiftly returned, and shortly was displayed again, with the name Mohammed changed to that of Jesus.”

A student union, like any institution, is duty bound to protect all its members from hatred, discrimination, intimidation or threats of violence. In neither of these instances is this relevant. Jesus and Mo is anti-religious satire at its best, invariably humane, intelligent and often very funny. The cartoons are miles removed from the grotesque, demeaning caricatures of some of the notorious Jyllands-Posten cartoons of 2005. Meanwhile, calling a pineapple Mohammed (or, for that matter, Jesus) has the approximate intellectual depth of saying “knickers” to the vicar. However when such a gesture is made in solidarity with untold hundreds of people currently imprisoned or facing corporal or even capital punishment for crimes of blasphemy around the world, it is surely considerably more offensive to restrict and punish such expression than it is to utter it in the first place.

Freshers’ fairs at all universities present the first taste of a new life for hundreds of thousands of young people every year. Most leave the confines of the family home and the intellectual limitations of schools. Thousands more arrive from overseas, including many from countries where freedom of religious expression is severely curtailed. Some students arrive with sincere and devout religious conviction, and no one should question their right to retain and exercise their beliefs. But how many others arrive, like the young Tariq Ali, relishing hitherto unimagined freedom of thought and belief? How many would be similarly inspired in their thinking, their political and personal development, to know that British universities are places where religious beliefs can not only be freely exercised, but freely challenged, even mocked?

Grumbling old farts like me often bemoan the diminishing radicalism of students. Often it is unfair – we place expectations on young people from which the rest of us seem exempt. But 50 years after Ali had his moment of revelation, a mere five years after we finally got around to abolishing the blasphemy law in England and Wales, I find it sad and disturbing that students themselves, and the administrators of their institutions, appear to be voluntarily forbidding anti-religious expression.

We face challenges in 2013 that did not exist 50 years ago. Religious hatred, particularly Islamophobia, is a real and corrosive influence in political and media discourse and it needs to be challenged and resisted. However when such efforts extend to echoing and mirroring the most heavy-handed restraints on freedom of thought and expression, effectively imposing a theocratic, fundamentalist rulebook on believers and non-believers alike, it is a victory not for progressive liberalism but for dogmatic oppression.

Malestrom pt 4: Trolling is more than a game

In Airplane, Lloyd Bridges declared in exasperation: “It looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.” A few days ago I returned from a brief family holiday to find the media ablaze with the issue of misogynistic trolling, threats and intimidation, and the first thought that popped into my head was “looks like I picked the wrong week to quit blogging about male anger.”

I’ve spent a couple of days catching up on opinion pieces from all perspectives, ranging from the insightful and profound to the downright dumb, checking whether there could be anything left that has yet to be said. There is. For all the discussion about how we police and moderate abusive messages; for all the potential problems with solutions such as a Report Abuse button; all the debates about freedom of speech versus protection from intimidation and bullying; alleged hypocrisy of those advocating stronger constraints and everything else, there is one question which nobody seems prepared to ask, and it is, I think, the most important of them all. What motivates people – mostly but not entirely men – to attack others online using the most extremely violent, threatening and offensive terms at their disposal?

I’ve often heard it said when discussing the cases of Anita Sarkeesian, Rebecca Watson, Lindy West or the recent clutch of targets that what appears to be misogyny isn’t really misogyny because it is “just trolling.” I don’t buy that. I’ll willingly admit I’ve trolled the internet occasionally. I’ve used  disingenuous arguments to get a rise out of those I think deserve it. I’ve used throwaway nyms to make mischief on occasion. I’ve been bloody rude to people on many occasions, out of anger, frustration or malice. However the thought of sending someone a rape threat, like the thought of sending someone racist or homophobic abuse, makes me feel literally sick in the pit of my stomach. I honestly cannot imagine ever hating anyone enough to do that. I don’t believe for a moment that makes me somehow saintly, I firmly believe that the great majority of internet users feel the same and it is obvious that the proportion of men online who behave like this is very small.

Late last year Anita Sarkeesian gave a TED talk, discussed by Helen Lewis here where she discussed the abuse that she had famously received. She describes the phenomenon, insightfully, as a game. There is a Big Boss enemy (Sarkeesian) who must be defeated, and a supportive team of players who  turn the entire internet into a battlefield. They have home bases where they co-ordinate their attacks, boast of their exploits, and congratulate each other on their hits, gain status or (in gaming terms) experience points for successful attacks. They see themselves not as the villains, but as the heroes.

Over the past week or two we have seen something similar happen with Caroline Criado-Perez, Stella Creasy, Mary Beard and others have been thrust into the role of level bosses. I find it fascinating that the spark which ignited this inferno was so randomly trivial. Criado-Perez was targeted because she’s been involved in a successful campaign to get a woman featured on a banknote. I’ll admit this never struck me as the most pressing social justice campaign on the table at present, but by the same token, nor did it strike me as something that anyone could get especially upset about. But it was enough to rile one or two people sufficiently to begin sending hate messages and rape threats. When Criado-Perez and her supporters refused to accept this in silence, it was as if the broad community of online warrior-gamers pricked up their collective ears and declared “game on.”  The players reached for whatever weapons were available in their arsenal, and for many the heavy duty cannon was the rape allusion or direct threat.

To these people, making a rape threat, a death threat, even a hoax bomb threat is a perfectly legitimate tactic within the game. It is no more real or serious than running over a pedestrian on GTA – just a tactic to get to the end of the level.  However in this case the pedestrian being run over is not treating it as a game, but a very real part of her life.

This, I think, largely explains what we have seen these past couple of weeks, but it is inadequate. Psychologists researching online behaviour have come up with concepts such as deindividuation and self-awareness, which shed light on how the internet can disinhibit aggressive behaviours, but they do not explain why the aggression is there in the first place.

It seems apparent to me that at the heart of this behaviour is at least some element of desire to hurt women. Not physically but emotionally and psychologically, nonetheless inflicting the most discomfort, fear and distress they can. The fact that they so quickly and so commonly resort to sexualised and gendered attacks suggests to me that underneath the game mentality, there is genuine misogyny at play.

A debate has raged prominently over the past week, but it has largely been the wrong debate. The ugly truth is that if we want to end the extremes of hateful behaviour on the internet (by which I don’t mean the day to day ballyhoo, but overtly criminal, threatening and intimidatory behaviour) we will not do it with a report abuse button or a few more moderators on social media sites, or even yet more criminalization of online behaviour, all of which will be easily circumvented by all but the most stupid and immature of trolls. We need to look deeper, into where the misogyny originates, where the aggression originates, where the desire to cause hurt originates, then work to resolve them. That is an overwhelmingly challenging proposition, but the only one which will, ultimately, bring solutions.

The HetPat First Directive

Following a discussion thread about moderation, I agreed with the regular commenters here that there should be an extra rule, which we hereby dub The HetPat First Directive (HPFD).I have now amended my Comments on Comments page to include the following

HPFD: Thou shalt not generalise about gender activist movements or judge people’s arguments by their association.

What this means in practice is that I shall consider moderating any comments that make sweeping generalisations about feminists, MRAs or any similar group. This is not because all such generalisations are necessarily false (although in my view they usually are) but simply because such sweeping generalisations act, almost without exception, to derail threads and discussions, spark angry reactions and foster an atmosphere that is corrosive to debate.

Examples would include statements like these:

“Feminism is a hate movement committed female supremacy and the subjugation of men  and boys.”

“Men’s Rights Activists are misogynistic trolls with no interest in the real issues affecting men and boys.”

“Your opinions are worthless because you are a feminist / MRA”

Et cetera.   

We’ve already identified a need for a First Exemption

HPFD1;X1: “In cases where the poster generalises about all movements equally without discrimination, the First Directive shall be held inapplicable.”

Example: “I think all social movements are prone to failing, turning sour or collapsing under criticism.”  This is not a provocative statement about feminism or whatever, and is instead an observation on the nature of organisations. That has to be allowed.

I’m more than happy to consider additional exemptions, corollaries or sub-clauses as the need arises, if there is a strong consensus from you guys of course. Post your suggestions below and we’ll talk about it.

In defence of freedom of speech

SERIES: FROM THE HETPAT ARCHIVES

First published June 18th 2012

 

I am not the most dedicated gamer of my generation. I never owned a Pong machine or a Gameboy, a ZX Spectrum or a SNES. I’ve never played Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy. My only engagement with an XBox is the occasional attempt to prise my 10 year old son away from Minecraft, an experience roughly akin to dragging a hippie raver out of a K-hole. The closest I’ve come to pixellated sexual violence against women has been blasting a red shell up Princess Peach’s exhaust pipe on MarioKart.

So I don’t have much in the way of informed opinions about misogyny in video games, I’ll leave that to others. Nonetheless I couldn’t help but be sucked in by the debate surrounding Kickstarter Anita Sarkeesian, as good an illustration as we’ll ever need of the vitriol of the new gender wars. An intense storm of hatred was roused by her modest idea to crowd-fund research into sexism in the games industry. The many thousands of hostile comments posted on Sarkeesian’s YouTube video were of course heavily gendered and sexualised, but so too was some of the retaliation – notably Charlie Brooker’s description of the mob as “idiotic pebbledicks” who are terrified of women.

If one of the worst offences committed by sexists and anti-feminists online is to reduce women and their opinions to their genitalia and sexual worth, I’m not sure how the cause is helped by turning the precise same missiles around and hurling them back in the other direction – however deserving of mockery and disgust the targets might be.  Without doubt, the hate-fest directed at Sarkeesian was repellent and indefensible. It was a display of the madness of crowds which would have come as no surprise to Mackay or Le Bon (Gustave, that is, not Simon.) There were a few sane voices raised in defence of the gaming culture, and a few reasonable points made about creative freedom and the demands of the free market. But such comments were few and far between, and lost in a swamp of ugly abuse.

In all the online articles and commentary that appeared, a point recurred that this phenomenon is an inevitable price of freedom. If we grant free expression, we also grant freedom to abuse, insult and offend. It’s a seductive argument, with a lot of merit. Offence is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and there has never been an opinion of value which didn’t cause offence to someone. But just as my right to swing my fist ends where it meets your right to not be punched in the face, so my right to freedom of speech does not extend to the point where it silences others.

Let there be no doubt, the hate campaign waged against Anita Sarkeesian was a concerted attempt to silence her voice, using intimidation and psychological warfare. The misogyny expressed may have been rooted deep in the personalities of her antagonists, but in most cases I doubt it. Instead I suspect it was instrumental, using vocabulary consciously chosen to wound as deeply as possible, and aimed at the (assumed) weak points of a woman and a feminist.

The use of hate speech, threats and bullying to terrify and intimidate people into silence or away from certain topics is a far bigger threat to free speech than any legal sanction.

Imagine this is not the internet but a public square. One woman stands on a soapbox and expresses an idea. She is instantly surrounded by an army of 5,000 angry people yelling the worst kind of abuse at her in an attempt to shut her up. Yes, there’s a free speech issue there. But possibly not the one you think.

This boot can sometimes be on the other foot. While there is no direct symmetry, we have seen the same principle at play in the concerted attempts of some feminists (mostly, but not entirely historic) to stifle debate about male victims and female perpetrators of domestic violence, with activists, writers and academics being branded misogynists and abusers for even raising the issues. Anyone who dares to raise a sceptical voice in many feminist blog spaces can expect more aggression and abuse than reasoned debate. The urge to silence opponents is probably a human one, and for that reason it is all the more important we are conscious of it in ourselves and wary of it in others.

Those who participate in online hate campaigns are not the champions of freedom of speech, but its worst enemies. If they consider themselves libertarians, they are a disgrace to the label. It is not easy to see the solution. Censorship is never the answer, far too many babies go out with the filthy bathwater. Nor do I want to see our prisons filled with hot-headed flamers and trolls.

All we can do is be wise to the nature of these online flame wars, and be prepared to challenge abusive, insulting, silencing behaviour wherever it emerges; be prepared to confront bullies and mob mentality wherever they arise.

We can do that by questioning what they pack in their politics, not what they pack in their pants.

Hello, hello, is this thing on?

You know that feeling when you arrive alone at a party where you don’t really know anyone, and you sort of hang around in the kitchen for a while pretending to talk on your phone until you see someone who might be willing to talk to you? Yeah, me too.

Well just this once I’ll try to be the guy who marches straight into the middle of the living room with a crate of beer and a bong, ejects the Goldfrapp CD that had been beiging up the ambience, and replaces it with Ace of Spades, turned up to 11.

So, hello Freethought Blogs! I’m Ally, the newest member of the FTB family, and it is very, very nice to be here.

In a day or two I will post my first proper blog, which will get into the meat and potatoes (not to mention meat and two veg) of my politics, particularly my gender politics. There will be plenty of opportunities to argue about all those kinds of things in the weeks, months and (hopefully) years to come. But it is a bank holiday weekend here in the UK, and it seems appropriate to begin with a bit of a housewarming party.

Being desperately ancient and chronically unhip, I have yet to get into the whole Ask FM wotchamagoogle. But I am told it is all the rage among borderline narcissists and troll-baiters (hello world, you called?) So in the spirit of the times, I open myself here to your questions and impertinent queries. I might edit a few answers into the post here, at least until it starts to get unwieldy.

I’ll give you a few to get you started:

Ally? Isn’t that a girl’s name?

Don’t you oppress me with your binary gender conformity. And no, I’m not a woman, I’m Scottish, (long settled in Manchester)

Why does your blog have such a ridiculous name?

It started as a photoshop joke and spiralled horribly out of control. But when you’re a straight, white, middle-aged, middle-class man explaining gender issues to the world, it helps to be upfront about these things.

What do you call a man with four planks on his head?

I dunno, but Edward Woodward would.

(From Thil) What do you mean when you call yourself middle-class?

Here in Britland, class is something we are incredibly attuned to and it plays out with all sorts of intricate dynamics. I’m very much lower middle-class. Dad was a teacher, mum a home-maker. So I grew up in a family with more books on the shelves than quids in the bank. I went to a mediocre comprehensive school then a mediocre university. I’ve continued to live my life with more books on the shelves than quids in the bank. I live in a ramshackle house in a very poor inner-city area, and my own kids are growing up in the same kind of cash-poor, love-rich household that I did.

The labour I sell is my brain, not my brawn, and that is primarily what makes me think of myself as middle-class. But I have little or nothing in common with the upper-middle classes with their inheritances, trust funds, private schooling & health insurance and useful old-school tie connections. I’ve never been more than a paycheque away from destitution. So in comparison with most people in the national media in the UK, I’m pretty much a filthy pleb with a big ol’ fuck off chip on my shoulder as a consequence.

 (From Artor) Just curious- What’s Ally short for? Are you an Aleister? Albert? Alicorn? Ally-ally-oxen-free?

I’m an Alistair. Or at least I am to my mum when I’ve been naughty.

(From oolon) do you have a comment policy?

Yes, see here. I have no hard and fast rules. There are no specific rules on what words or ideas are or are not acceptable, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. As the great philosophers once said: “Be excellent to each other”

(from Kamaka) Are you an atheist?

Yes. It’s something that feels so natural and obvious to me that it barely warrants mentioning. I tend not to write about it because I never really know what to say. It always strikes me as an odd thing to get passionate about. I’m a rationalist, but I’ve long resigned myself to accepting that people believe in weird and whacky things, like god existing or homeopathy working or Coldplay making interesting music. So long as they don’t attempt to impose such weird beliefs on me, I see it as none of my business.

So I’m not a passionate atheist, but I am a passionate secularist and a passionate believer in human rights. When religious people claim dominion over women’s wombs, little boys’ foreskins, children’s schooling or political decision-making, then I will fight them tooth and nail.

But it is not really the religion / rationalism thing that brings me to FTB. I’m here because I try to apply the same principles of free thinking – ie questioning everything, accepting nothing on faith, demanding evidence etc – to gender politics. Political dogma can be just as irrational and damaging as religious dogma, IMO.

(From Stubby) 1) Which Shameless character do you most resemble

Start of the weekend – James McAvoy’s character (Steve?) in the first series. Although he’s younger and obviously I’m much better looking. We have a similar Scottish/Manc hybrid accent.  By the end of the weekend it’s more like Frank.

(From Stubby) 2) Better insult: tosser or wanker?

Wanker is more for day-to-day usage, like the mild white cheddar, whereas tosser is more like a mature stilton, to be brought out and savoured as you roll it around your mouth for special occasions.

————

I hope you feel you know me a little better now. Thanks for all the comments and questions, keep them coming, but it’s past bedtime on this side of the Atlantic. Oh look, there are still a few beers in the crate. Help yourself and let yourselves out. I’ll be back to check on the debris in the morning.

 

EDIT – THE MORNING AFTER THE NIGHT BEFORE

Thanks everyone for your continuing comments and welcomes. I feel as if this blog is now well and truly warmed.

I’ve struck a compromise on the threaded / nested comments thing, trying to take on board people’s problems (especially reading on phones) when the responses get narrower and narrower, but also other people’s preference to be able to react to a comment immediately underneath. So I’ve set it so that it will only nest one comment deep. After that you’ll have to begin again with a new comment, identifying who it is you are talking to manually. I’m sure you’ll work it out.

If this is a compromise that pleases nobody but me, let me know and I’ll switch it off altogether.

Just as a little note to let you know my plans, over the next few weeks I’ll re-post a few highlights from my archive from my previous home as new blogs (with original publication dates etc made clear), as I hope these will be pieces you’d be interested in discussing all over again (or for the first time, for many of you). Then once I’ve done that, I’ll transfer my full archive for you to peruse at your leisure.

Thanks again. New post on its way.